Today, a week before the first votes in this year's primary are cast and over six months before the Democratic convention, I heard yet another liberal friend say, "Well, I guess I'll pretty much vote for Dean." Indeed, with all the press attention that the former Governor is getting, those not following the primary process would think that Democrats really have no choice. I, myself, was an early supporter of Howard Deanand I mean really early supporterlike a year ago. However, I've changed my mind, and I dare to propose an alternative.
One member of the nine-person Democratic field has publicly and principally refused to engage in negative attacks and infighting. The same candidate has the most positive and optimistic vision of all nine a message that goes beyond a hatred of President Bush. He OK, I'll admit that much now, it's not Carol Moseley-Braun has a true working-class background, the kind that voters love. In 2000, Gore's earth tone wardrobe didn't quite get there. His father worked in mills in rural South and North Carolina, his mother worked in a post office, and he worked his way through college and law school to become one of the most successful trial attorneys in North Carolina. This candidate is John Edwards.
Edwards has, since August, well before we even knew about Wesley Clark, been distributing and articulating his plan, in the form of a 60-page booklet called "Real Solutions for America." Edwards' plan not only pushes optimistic goals like first-time homebuyer's credit and affordable college for everyone, but it details how they will be funded. Short answer: rolling back tax-cuts for the super-wealthy. Long answer: read the plan. While other candidates have been pushing similar great ideas, none have gone into quite so much detail about how they will be funded and implemented.
There is a great political strategy behind what Edwards is doing, too. While it's fine to say and I think perfectly applicable that Edwards can beat Bush because he is from the South and because he has working class roots, the most brilliant political element of his message goes far beyond that simple "Southern" approach. As William Saletan from Slate.com put it, Edwards' work-over-wealth theme will be successful because it takes Bush on in a moral dimension. Saletan says, "The economy depends on virtue as well as money, and virtue lies in work." He goes on, "Bush wins [swing voters'] votes by equating the free market with the work ethic. Show them where the free market betrays the work ethic, and they'll vote for the candidate of the work ethic."
Because of this strong message, and because of his personal charisma and (dare I say it?) Southern charm, John Edwards is the Democrats' man to beat Bush. It's important to realize which of these qualities Bush has, too, and we need to understand which candidates could actually beat Bush on these "character" elements. Bush won in 2000 pretending to be the "everyman," and he did it because Karl Rove bought him a big hat and a ranch and a pickup truck. John Edwards is the real thing. In my home state of South Carolina, like so many of the swing states, that means a lot. Even the most wealthylike today's attorneys, finance executives, and even former plantation ownerslike to think of their "working roots" and call the values of a strong work ethic uniquely American. In a way, I think we all do.
As I once heard Mrs. Edwards say, a counterfeit dollar bill on its own may very well look real. The best way to realize it is a fake? Hold it up next to a real one. If we put John Edwards up against George Bush, the contest won't be Liberal vs. Conservative, Outsider vs. Establishment, or Arrogant vs. "I'm one of you." It will be Real vs. Fake. And with the two side by side, voters will realize the true everyman and the real optimist that is John Edwards.
If you've followed the primaries, you've heard Edwards say it before. Humor me, and let me say it again: I still believe in an America where the son of a mill worker can go toe to toe with the son of a President. Democrats, let's prove it, and send out from the primaries our best chance at beating Bush.